Questions and Artists: Randal Rasmussen

Randal Rasmussen setting up for a plein air painting session. Submitted photo.

As a local artist and resident of Door County, I have been enjoying Randy Rasmussen’s “Questions and Artists” features in the Peninsula Pulse for several years.

After he interviewed me last fall, I was so impressed with the piece he wrote that I offered to turn the tables and interview him. Randy got my attention as a fellow artist shortly after my full-time move to the county in 2010. Randy is an accomplished artist and a great conversationalist who is always willing to explore the challenges and the rewards of making art. We met at Glas Coffeehouse in Sturgeon Bay for this interview.

Roxanne Hanney (RH): Tell me about your early years, the setting where you grew up, and your first exposure to the world of art.

Randy Rasmussen (RR): I was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. I went to Racine Horlick High School, where an upper level art teacher told me I could go as far as I wanted in art. “You’re the only one in class who understands perspective,” she told me.

RH: What are your earliest memories of producing your own artwork?

RR: I still have two paintings I did in high school, one a cityscape which I still love to do.

RH: Who encouraged you and inspired you as an artist?

RR: Positive reinforcement for my drawings began with my mom and continued from counselors and teachers in junior high and high school.

RH: Describe any formal training you had in art.

RR: I received training in the commercial art program at Wichita University, where I enjoyed doing large acrylic paintings of bicycles.

RH: What career path did you choose and where did art fit into this?

RR: I had a career as a chiropractor and I also had an optical company at one point. Aside from occasional sketching, I was away from producing artwork for 30 years. Since my retirement eight-and-a-half years ago, however, I have dedicated myself to my art.

“The Hyacinth House” by Randal Rasmussen.

RH: How and when did you end up in Door County?

RR: My parents moved to Sturgeon Bay 12 years ago and when my father became ill, we moved up here full time. I was still in practice then and commuted to Oconto Falls for three-and-a-half years.

RH: What is your choice of medium and subject matter?

RR: I will paint anything! I’ve painted with watercolor and acrylic, but more recently I’ve fallen in love with oil. Some of my inspiration came from Jim Leatham, a fellow artist and friend.

RH: How do you describe your style of painting?

RR: I am a contemporary impressionist/expressionist. I don’t like straight lines. I like people who see my art to feel the subject. I’m looking for a visceral response.

RH: I know you produce some of your work en plein air because I’ve participated in workshops with you. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this format over studio work?

RR: I’m a believer in training the eye to see colors, which you see far better out of doors. The challenge is that it’s so fleeting. Going back to the scene two days in a row at the same time is one way to counteract this. Almost all of my work starts en plein air.

RH: How have you evolved over the years as an artist?

RR: Originally I knew nothing about color, composition or value. Now I think I can paint a pleasing rendition of whatever I’m trying to do. I believe in taking risks, going to “the edge of the cliff.” This causes me to choose complicated subjects and sometimes it doesn’t work.

RH: What is your greatest challenge in your artwork?

“The West Side” by Randal Rasmussen.

RR: All painting seeks to capture light falling on objects; I want to continue to improve in this area. I’m getting more exotic in my color mixing, so that I’ll add a splash of turquoise, for example. I never use black to render darks and photographs are misleading for this reason.

RH: Describe one of your most successful pieces.

RR: I won Best in Show in the Plymouth Plein Air competition in 2011. It was 38 degrees and windy; I was painting in acrylic and I spilled my water; I’d forgotten my red paint. It was a cityscape with a mural, and it apparently pleased the judges.

RH: Have you earned any awards or distinctions over the years?

RR: I won a cover competition for the Ministry of Healthcare Magazine, sold the painting and a run of prints as a result. It was a watercolor titled “Behind Ray’s Cherry Hut.”

RH: I’m going to ask you the same question you asked me when you interviewed me: What do you think is the future of fine art?

RR: Depends on what day you ask me. I would hope we are raising a generation of people who appreciate fine art. The economy has been a factor in what seems to be a decline in sales around the area, but also a shift in priorities for much of the younger generation.

RH: Thank you, Randy. I’ve enjoyed this.

RR: My pleasure, and thank you too.

Randy Rasmussen’s artwork can be seen at AMO Gallery on 3rd Avenue in Sturgeon Bay and at Bay Art Gallery in Sister Bay. His email address is [email protected].